This is like saying "stealing is okay, as long as you don't steal anything somebody will notice" or "lying is okay, as long as nobody finds out". Essentially, the Bishops are saying "it's okay with us if priests abuse their power, as long as they don't do anything illegal".
What concerns me most of all is this: As long as the culture remains in place, the potential for harm continues. As long as the culture remains in place, the potential for "[hiding] behind a clericalism which is prepared to protect vicious behaviour at the expense of defenceless innocents" remains in place.
This is simply unacceptable.
This is partly why this blog has never been shy about reporting clerical abuse stories - something which the aggressive liberals in the comments boxes have never been able to understand, and which has got us in trouble with conservative Catholics as well.
Clericalism and ultramontanism is not the answer to the problems of today. Yes, we have problems of disobedience of legitimate authority justly exercised, and in those cases the authority should be supported. But this is not the opposite problem as the sex abuse being covered up by bishops: it is another example of the same problem.
How so? The sex abusers were disobedient. Their bishops didn't approve of the abuse; they asked them to stop. The abusers were breaking canon law as well as the natural law. The abuse persisted because of a failure of legitimate authority. But it also persisted because of the false deference towards that failing authority.
Because no-one wanted to confront and denounce the bishops and religious superiors who were failing to exercise their authority, out of deference to that authority, they were enabled to go on not exercising their authority.
The clerical club which protected the abusers, without necessarily approving of them, is also tolerating priests who commit liturgical abuses, refuse to give the faithful communion kneeling, refuse to teach the whole gospel, and turn their parishes into centres for left-wing activism.